05/31/12

TJ Williams: Mobilizing Black churches for LGBT equality

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For TJ Williams, being Black, gay and heavily involved in the church is not a contradiction or an identity of great complexity.
Homophobes in the Black church, he said, “have forsaken the legacy of the Black Church” as a pillar of justice and social change.

Williams is a student, a gay man and an organizer on a mission to amplify the voices of Black gay preachers who support LGBT equality, of which there are many, he said.

See Tj’s website HERE

“I want folks in the African-American community inspired to understand that LGBT rights are civil rights,” Williams said.

At a time when some have equated Black churches with homophobia, especially in the wake of President Obama’s recent support of marriage equality, Williams is fighting to portray a different image of the Black and faithful.

Williams is a Master of Divinity student at New York Theological Seminary. He is also a member of the Riverside Church in New York City, a church that has been open and affirming towards LGBT people since 1985. Williams married his partner, Brad Williams Hauger, there last year.

Williams grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. His mother was an evangelist who equated LGBT rights with her own struggles as a woman early on.

“She saw this connection between sexism and misogyny and homophobia [in the church],” Williams said.

Williams’ upbringing and his own sense of justice led him to seek out a church that embraced LGBT people and continued to push for fairness. That church, for him, was Riverside.

Riverside has a legacy of social justice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech there in 1967. Today, the church bills itself as open and affirming on its website, listing same-sex weddings alongside heterosexual ceremonies.

Riverside is not alone. Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s controversial former pastor), made headlines recently by backing the president’s support for marriage equality and calling on other Black churches to do the same.

“The institution of marriage is not under attack as a result of the President’s words,” Moss wrote. “Marriage was under attack years ago by men who viewed women as property and children as trophies of sexual prowess. Marriage is under attack by low wages, high incarceration, unfair tax policy, unemployment, and lack of education.” [Windy City Times attempted to contact Moss on numerous occasions. However, he had not responded as of the press deadline.]

Other Black churches have added their voices to a growing chorus of those who support marriage equality. But for those not ready to go public with their support for LGBT causes, said Williams, Black churches are increasingly lending support to LGBT movements in a quieter way: they’re backing President Obama on other issues at a time when his leadership has been called into question.

Williams argues that the media has largely portrayed Black churches as monolithic, interviewing homophobic Black ministers but not ones that embrace LGBT people.

“I often ask myself why the media is missing this,” he said. “If you’re going to give press to these homophobic ministers, then call up these clergy that are well-studied and believe in justice for all.”

Williams is taking matters into his own hands. He is planning a large press conference at June 7 that highlights the voices of Black clergy who support President Obama’s stance on marriage equality. The details of that event have not yet been announced.

Williams believes that Black churches, built on a foundation of equality and justice, should naturally step up to support LGBT rights.

“We find it very foreign when we come across folks that don’t understand that civil-rights narrative,” Williams said. “The legacy was always about justice.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/31/12

Cardinal Authorized Paying Abusers

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This man couldn’t tell the truth if his life depended upon it!

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York authorized payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a “payoff” to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll.

A spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed on Wednesday that payments of as much as $20,000 were made to “a handful” of accused priests “as a motivation” not to contest being defrocked. The process, known as “laicization,” is a formal church juridical procedure that requires Vatican approval, and can take far longer if the priest objects.

“It was a way to provide an incentive to go the voluntary route and make it happen quickly, and ultimately cost less,” said Jerry Topczewski, the spokesman for the archdiocese. “Their cooperation made the process a lot more expeditious.”

Cardinal Dolan, who is president of the national bishops’ conference and fast becoming the nation’s most high-profile Roman Catholic cleric, did not respond to several requests for comment.

A victims advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent a letter of protest to the current archbishop of Milwaukee on Wednesday asking, “In what other occupation, especially one working with families and operating schools and youth programs, is an employee given a cash bonus for raping and sexually assaulting children?”

Experts in the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse say that payouts to dismissed priests are not uncommon. When a man becomes a priest, the church is expected to care for his needs for a lifetime.

The newly revealed document is the minutes of a meeting of the finance council of the Milwaukee archdiocese from March 7, 2003, which Cardinal Dolan attended. The archdiocese was facing a flood of potential lawsuits by people claiming abuse, and the church’s insurance company was refusing to cover the costs because it said the church had been negligent. The minutes noted that “unassignable priests” — those suspected of abuse — were still receiving full salaries.

The minutes say that those at the meeting discussed a proposal to “offer $20,000 for laicization ($10,000 at the start and $10,000 at the completion the process).” Instead of salary, they would receive a $1,250 monthly pension benefit, and, until they found another job, health insurance.

The first known payment in Milwaukee was to Franklyn Becker, a former priest with many victims. Cardinal Dolan said in response to a reporter’s question at the time that the payment was “an act of charity,” so that Mr. Becker could pay for health insurance.

According to church documents, Mr. Becker was accused of abusing at least 10 minors, and given a diagnosis of pedophilia in 1983. The church paid more than $16 million to settle lawsuits involving him and one other priest.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2011, in the face of potential lawsuits by 23 accusers.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/30/12

Vatican’s assessment of LCWR about fear, not doctrine

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COMMENTARY

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s April 18 doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is not about doctrine. It is not primarily about protecting the faith or ensuring an ecclesiology of communion, no matter how many times these terms are woven through the report. It is fundamentally about fear — fear of the loss of power — and the willful use of dominative control to defend that power.

The abundance of religious themes and language do not mask this punitive effort to shore up the crumbling authority of hierarchical leaders. Nor does the document hide the anger that roils beneath the protestations of gratitude and concern. The final report of the LCWR assessment reveals a desperate attempt on the part of some fearful and angry church leaders to protect their turf — to maintain an all-male church leadership, to keep women and laypeople under their authority, and to shield the homophobic-homosexual subculture in the leadership of the Catholic church.

When fear rules

The pattern of using coercive intimidation to control others in one’s household is called domestic abuse. Domestic abuse does not need to involve physical violence — in fact, many abusers never beat their partners. Instead, the threatened person strikes out psychologically to evoke compliance. Public humiliations, corrections, threats, accusations of disloyalty and demands for absolute obedience make up the typical arsenal of the abusive person. In extreme cases, the abuser monitors the actions of the other, keeps a record of his or her transgressions, restricts his or her activities, discredits his or her reputation, takes charge of his or her decisions, and threatens to withdraw support if unquestioned compliance to demands is not maintained.

These abusive acts will sound curiously familiar to anyone who has read the proposed implementations of the Vatican doctrinal assessment.

While females can and do commit domestic abuse, statistically, they do so at much reduced rates, inflict less physical harm and commonly have different motivations than male perpetrators, making domestic abuse primarily a crime against women. Yes, a crime — like child sexual abuse — something many bishops, archbishops and cardinals in the Catholic church failed to take seriously until they were forced to do so by lawsuits and public outcry.

But has transfer of learning taken place? Do they get it? Do they get that they cannot treat women and children as stepping stones to power, privilege and pleasure?

Whether through hits or humiliations, broken bones or broken spirits, threats of bodily harm or warnings of impending excommunication, the goal of abusers is the same: Assert absolute control. Wear the person down until he or she gives in or gives up. Use punishment if he or she dares to claim his or her own authority.

The most dangerous time in a household where domestic abuse is present is right after the person being abused has stood up to the abuser. Have too many members of LCWR claimed their own authority? The classic domestic abuser seeks one thing above all else: obedience to dictates. It is not surprising that obedience is alluded to on every page of the final doctrinal assessment document.

In fact, the mandate for implementation of the results of the doctrinal assessment reads like a how-to manual for the most common form of domestic abuse — no physical violence, just a resolute campaign to rein in those who have dared disobey the master, or, in the case of LCWR, the pope and bishops: “to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the church, the Holy See” (page 7). Pretty clear.

Diagnosing the abuser

Mental illness, including personality disorders, compound domestic abuse but are not its primary cause. Domestic abuse is power abuse. In its most prevalent form, it is conscious, coercive conduct by men those believe they have the unconditional right to use forceful tactics to enforce their rules and maintain absolute control over those they deem subject to them.

What kinds of people abuse others? While there is no single profile of the domestic abuser, research has identified characteristics frequently seen among perpetrators of all types. Ironically, there is not much difference between those who use their fists and those who use words alone to demand obedience.

* Abusers believe they are entitled to maintain power and control over those in their households (institutions).
* They may believe they have an obligation to compel obedience for the benefit of the victim and the good of the household (church).
* They do not identify their controlling and hurtful tactics as abusive and are insulted when others perceive them that way.
* Perpetrators tend to perceive all interactions within relationships through a prism of compliance or disobedience.
* Abusers tend to be insecure men who need to establish dominance to feel confident.

The single most conclusive thing we know about domestic abuse is that it is learned behavior. Abusers have gained knowledge of abusive behaviors by seeing them in action, either in their families or in the various cultures to which they belong. This applies to religious cultures where the seminarian is taught early to bow to the wishes of his rector, to obey his bishop and to submit to the cardinal — all of whom kiss the ring of the pope.

All of this bowing, obeying and willful submission programs the brain to normalize hierarchical authority, and in some less secure individuals, to deeply internalize this way of relating and to replicate it.

As in sexual abuse, church leaders who have witnessed domestic abuse in their families or who have experienced such abuse as children may be particularly susceptible to behave abusively themselves. When a fragile ego combines with learned patterns of abuse, the stage is set for domestic abuse.

While abusers do not fit neatly into any particular diagnostic category, their behavior is not considered “normal.”

Psychologically healthy adults do not mandate obedience, forbid dialogue about subjects they do not wish discussed, or use oppressive tactics to gain control over others. Personally secure leaders don’t issue orders to other functioning adults, threatening punitive measures if they are not obeyed.

Often described as having a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, most abusers can be quite civilized and even charming when they need to be. Their ability to function as CEOs of companies and preside over large corporations does not eliminate them from the pool of the insecure who strike out against those who threaten them. Some male abusers have been found to harbor a secret loathing of females, considering them inferior. Since such attitudes are certainly present in the history of the church (read St. Jerome), it is possible that its influence still inhabits, consciously or the unconsciously, the collective mind of church leaders.

The persistent desire of hierarchical leaders to keep women under their control and out of their sphere of leadership, especially women theologians, suggests that the “Jerome Syndrome” might still be operative.

[Fran Ferder is a Franciscan sister, clinical psychologist, author and professor at Seattle University.]

Complete Article HERE!

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05/26/12

The butler did it!

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You can’t make this stuff up!

Vatican leak inquiry: Pope’s butler named as suspect

The Pope’s butler has been formally named as a suspect in the Vatican’s inquiry into a series of media leaks from the Church’s highest levels.

Vatican magistrates accused Paolo Gabriele, 46, of illegal possession of confidential documents.

A series of leaks, dubbed Vatileaks, has revealed alleged corruption, mismanagement and internal conflicts.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI set up a special commission of cardinals to find the source.

Mr Gabriele is the pope’s personal butler and assistant and one of very few laymen to have access to the Pope’s private apartments.

Documents found

He lives with his wife and three children in an apartment within the Vatican walls, where Italian media report that a stash of confidential documents had been discovered.

“I confirm that the person detained on Wednesday for illegal possession of private documents is Mr Paolo Gabriele, who remains in detention,” the spokesman for the Holy See, Father Federico Lombardi said, according to Italy’s state broadcaster, Rai.

He added that now the initial stage of the process was complete, Mr Gabriele had nominated two lawyers capable of representing him at a Vatican Tribunal, and had met with them.

He would, the Vatican spokesman added, have “all the juridical guarantees foreseen by the criminal code of the State of Vatican City”.

As the Vatican has no jail, Mr Gabriele is being held in one of the three so-called “secure rooms” in the offices of the Vatican’s tiny police force inside the walled city-state, Reuters reports.

If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 30 years for illegal possession of documents of a head of state, probably to be served in an Italian prison due to an agreement between Italy and the Vatican, Italian media report.

The Vatileaks scandal has filled Italian media – dominating the columns of Italian newspapers and filling TV programmes and magazines.

The detention comes during one of the most tumultuous weeks in recent history for the Vatican.

Last week a book, entitled His Holiness, was published by an Italian journalist with reproductions of confidential letters and memos between the pope and his personal secretary.

The Vatican called the book “criminal” and vowed to take legal action against the author, publisher, and whoever leaked the documents.

Last Thursday, the president of the Vatican bank – Ettore Gotti Tedeschi – was ousted by the bank’s board.

Sources close to the investigation said he too had been found to have leaked documents, though the official reason for his departure was that he had failed to do his job.

Mr Tedeschi himself said the move had been a punishment for his attempt to make the bank more open.

The BBC’s David Willey, in Rome, says the leak of a string of highly sensitive internal documents from inside the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, including personal letters to Pope Benedict XVI, has been an evident embarrassment to the Pope, prompting the rare investigation.

The leaked documents include a letter to Pope Benedict by the Vatican’s current ambassador to Washington alleging cronyism, nepotism and corruption among the administrators of Vatican City.

Others concern “poison pen” memos criticising Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope’s number two, and the reporting of suspicious payments by the Vatican Bank.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/26/12

Dionne: Is Catholic spring on horizon?

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There is a healthy struggle brewing among the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops.

A previously silent group, upset over conservative colleagues defining the church’s public posture and eagerly picking fights with President Obama, has had enough.

The headlines this week were about lawsuits brought by 43 Catholic organizations, including 13 dioceses, to overturn regulations issued by the administration requiring insurance plans to cover contraception under the new health-care law.

But the other side of this news was also significant: That the vast majority of the nation’s 195 dioceses did not go to court.

It turns out that many bishops, notably the church leadership in California, saw the litigation as premature. They are upset that the lawsuits were brought without a broader discussion among the entire membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and wanted to delay action until the Conference’s June meeting.

Until now, bishops who believed that their leadership was aligning the institutional church too closely with the political right had voiced their doubts internally.

While the more moderate and liberal bishops kept their qualms out of public view, conservative bishops have been outspoken in condemning the Obama administration and pushing a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign aimed at highlighting “threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad.”

But in recent months, a series of events — among them the Vatican’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious encouraged by right-wing American bishops — have angered more progressive Catholics and led to talk among the disgruntled faithful of the need for a “Catholic spring” to challenge the hierarchy’s shift to the right.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., broke the silence on his side Tuesday in an interview with Kevin Clarke of the Jesuit magazine America. Blaire expressed concern that some groups “very far to the right” are turning the controversy over the contraception rules into “an anti-Obama campaign.”

“I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops,” he said. “I think our rhetoric has to be that of bishops of the church who are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel, that our one concern is that we make sure the church is free to carry out her mission as given to her by Christ, and that remains our focus.”

Clarke also paraphrased Blaire as believing that “the bishops lose their support when the conflict is seen as too political.”

Blaire’s words were diplomatic. But in a letter to the national bishops’ conference that has not been released publicly, lawyers for California’s bishops said the lawsuits would be “imprudent” and “ill-advised.”

The letter was not answered by the national bishops’ group before the suits were announced.

Already, there are reports that some bishops will play down or largely ignore the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, scheduled for June 21 to July 4, in their own dioceses.

These bishops fear that it has become enmeshed in Republican election-year politics and see many of its chief promoters, notably Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, as too strident.

The irony in the current acrimony is that Catholics were broadly united last January across political lines in opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ initial rules on contraception because they exempted only a narrow category of religious institutions from the mandate.

Facing this challenge, the president fashioned a compromise under which employees of Catholic organizations such as hospitals and social service agencies would still have access to contraceptive services but the religious entities would not have to pay for them.

This compromise was accepted by most progressive Catholics, though many of them still favor rewriting the underlying regulations to acknowledge the religious character of the church’s welfare and educational work.

But where the progressives favor pursuing further negotiations with the administration, the conservative bishops have acted as if it never made any concessions at all.

Significantly, Blaire identified with the conciliatory approach. As Clarke wrote, “Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored.”

For too long, the Catholic Church’s stance on public issues has been defined by the outspokenness of its most conservative bishops and the reticence of moderate and progressive prelates.

Signs that this might finally be changing are encouraging for the church, and for American politics.

Complete Article HERE!

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